September 24, 2017 / 7:18 PM / 2 years ago

While wealthy Mexicans swamped by quake aid, poor feel abandoned

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Relief supplies and volunteers are piling up at rescue sites in upscale districts of Mexico City following Tuesday’s deadly earthquake in a show of solidarity that has contrasted with the government’s struggle to get aid to people most in need.

Rescue workers and volunteers walk past signs reading "We are an example to the world," "I want to become a Mexican when I grow up," and "Mexico will not fall" among other quotes, after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico Mexico City, Mexico September 24, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

In the wealthy neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa in the center of Mexico City, volunteers by the hundreds stand ready to help dig for survivors who may be trapped beneath the rubble. In recent days, however, they have largely remained idle.

Others have brought food and water, eager to tend to rescue workers or the thousands of people made homeless by the quake. Yet they have struggled to find takers because so much sustenance is on offer.

In the poor, far-flung neighborhoods in the outskirts of the capital, meanwhile, aid and comfort were less abundant. And in villages in some states surrounding the Mexico City, victims said they had yet to see government aid arrive.

In the hard-hit Mexico City neighborhood of Del Valle, 48-year-old Marcela Sanchez came in search of aid after she lost her home in the large, working-class area of Nezahualcoyotl, in the remote northeast suburbs.

“We haven’t received any aid,” Sanchez said. “Those of us who work in Mexico City return home with aid. God willing, they can help us.”

The government’s response to Tuesday’s quake, which killed 319 people in Mexico City and surrounding states, is under scrutiny ahead of presidential elections next year.

Earthquakes are politically sensitive after the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s flawed response to the 1985 earthquake that killed thousands.

The government’s handling of this disaster is markedly better than it was 32 years ago, when days passed before rescues began at many buildings. That disaster led to more rigorous building codes and regular quake drills.

The lasting memory of the 2017 quake may be the outpouring of voluntary action, but also the unevenness of the relief operations and the lack of government coordination of resources.

“There’s plenty (of provisions and aid workers). All that’s missing here is emergency management,” said Roberto Hernandez, founder of “Los Topos,” or The Moles, a civilian rescue squad that rose to prominence after the 1985 earthquake.

The government response is being coordinated by the Civil Protection unit of the Interior Ministry, which did not immediately make an official available for comment. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s office did not respond to requests for comment.


A combination of Mexican government employees, police, soldiers and sailors as well as foreign aid teams and hordes of civilian volunteers have cleared buildings of debris, rescued some 69 people and recovered bodies.

But the enormous logistical task of marshalling those resources has appeared wanting. Even in the best of times, coordinating action among myriad government agencies in Mexico is complicated, and volunteers and victims have complained that the overlapping jurisdictions have thwarted relief efforts.

While rescuers work around the clock at disaster sites, dozens of police and military forces are left without any apparent task, sometimes just standing by, inactive.

Hernandez, of Los Topos, complained about the slow pace of removing debris at a collapsed office building in Roma. While rescuers in hard hats worked atop the ruins, scores of uniformed police and soldiers appeared to have little to do.

“We need to break up slabs and bring them down to look for bodies or survivors. We did this 32 years ago and saved 137 people,” Hernandez said. “Look at them (police officers). Every one of them would be willing to pick up a couple of rocks if you asked them.”

The mayor of Mexico City said in an interview with broadcaster TV Azteca that the official response was improving.

“We have stuck to the contingency plan without reticence. We are working hand-in-hand with the navy, with the army, with the federal police,” Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said.

That contention may be lost on people in the states of Morelos and Puebla, closer to the epicenter of the 7.1 magnitude quake, where in some villages victims said the government had not arrived.

Instead, caravans of volunteers from the capital traveled backroads and waded through rivers to deliver aid to remote populations.

Even in relatively close neighborhoods, such as San Geronimo on the capital’s southern extreme where many of the modest adobe and brick homes crumbled or cracked and road damage has impeded access, residents complained aid was slow to arrive and not nearly as abundant as in the upscale neighborhoods close to the city center.

“We have not had any support from the authorities,” said Antonio Ramirez, a retired teacher who was surveying damaged homes. “The support has been from ordinary people. Even the soldiers, instead of bringing picks and shovels, brought their machine guns.”

Additional reporting by Noe Torres and Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Dan Flynn and Mary Milliken

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